painful tweak

How to Overcome a Painful "Tweak" in 24 Hours

by Dr. Michael MashUpdated

If you're reading this, you've most likely experienced something like this: you're a barbell athlete who regularly works out. You may have felt that dreaded "twinge" or back tweak on your last set of squats. Maybe you even felt it later that night while bending down to tie your shoe. 

Then it started ... PAIN. You can't even bend forward ... at all. Or, maybe you can't bend backwards. You feel like your spine is LOCKED UP.

You start panicking and worrying because it might screw up your entire training program moving forward. You start going down that rabbit hole, wondering if it's ever going to go away.

If you've ever experienced anything like this, I just want to say that I know what you're feeling. I've been there too, and I've learned how to overcome it. 

Step 1: Don't Panic..It's Going to Be OK

This used be my biggest pitfall. When I was younger, it used to take me WEEKS to get over a dreaded back tweak. As soon as it happened, I immediately got angry and blamed myself for either losing my form or performing a weight that I shouldn't have. 

If you've experienced this before, you know what I mean. You tweak something and you tell yourself immediately after, "I knew I shouldn't have done that. Now I'm gonna pay for it!" 

My biggest piece of advice in this situation would be this: don't panic. It happened. There is no going back. Take a deep breath and acknowledge this and make a decision. What are you going to do next?

Step 2: Stay Moving and Limit Painful Positions 

Teenage Michael used to pout, stay in bed, pop Ibuprofen like candy and binge-watch Netflix. Although I do love my Netflix Marvel series, this probably isn't the best way to get over this situation! 

So you "tweaked" something. My biggest piece of advice is to KEEP MOVING. Find positions and movements that feel good, and do them a lot.

This isn't the time to get mad at yourself because you can't bend forward, and continually try and bend forward. It hurts. It's "sensitized" ... just avoid it, for now. You don't need to stretch anything out

More information here: I Hurt My Back Lifting Weights...Now What?

Step 3: Perform a Modified Workout 

Get back in the gym. Even if you can't bend forward. Even if you can't bend backwards. Get into the gym and perform a modified workout. Now, today obviously isn't the day to push things and break records. Today is the day to load things to your tolerance. 

I used to ignore my symptoms and just go to the gym and "grind through it". Because you know ... no pain no gain right? This often backfires. Grinding through things would often exacerbate the issue and just leave me more angry, and prolong the symptoms.

The goal here is to decrease the load of your lifts so you can get in a HEALTHY training session. If you do this, often times you feel BETTER than when you walked in. 

Step 4: Find Something Fun to Do

Okay, so you hurt. This is NOT the time to cancel your plans for the night! Unless you're doing something that involves a ton of loading or extreme physical activity, go to the movies with your friends! Go out and have that girls' night you have planned. Don't cancel! 

If you're going to take anything from this article, listen to this:

It's more important to do the things you enjoy with a little bit of pain than to avoid them all together.

THIS is how you get over a painful "tweak" in 24 hours. Don't completely avoid movement (kinesiophobia) and don't panic and fear the worst (catastrophize). 

I should note, that the occasional "tweak" here and there, even with good programming, is NORMAL. But if you repetitively experience these, I would recommend you take a deeper look at your  programming.

Maybe your programming is too much for you, and adjusting the volume and intensity can help reduce the risk of these repetitive flare ups!


Painful tweaks used to take me two weeks to overcome. I used to panic, continually stretch into painful movements, and try and load up heavy in the gym. 

Now I acknowledge that it happened, continue moving in tolerable positions, workout to my tolerance, keep my plans for that evening, and I'm GOOD the next day. I recommend you do the same!

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